Please could I have some advice on growing courgettes, as it is the first time I have grown them?
Growing courgettes; here are some notes to help you (courgettes, marrows and squashes are all about the same to grow, so these notes cover all these plants)
Courgettes and marrows can be raised from seeds sown directly where they are to grow or from plants grown in a greenhouse or cold frame before being planted out.
The method you choose largely depends on the soil and weather conditions. Raising plants under protection and planting them out once the danger of frost has passed produces more reliable growth and establishment. It also makes it easier to avoid damage from pests and, of course, the weather.
Squash seeds should be sown under glass. The seeds are best sown on their sides, as this reduces the risk of damping off disease, at about 2.5cm (1in) depth.
In cold seasons or areas, or if you wish to be sure that cold will not affect early growth, cover the seeds, seedlings or young plants with fleece or individual bottle cloches for a few weeks.
When to sow:
Early sowing indoors or out is rarely of much benefit as the seeds may not germinate if the soil is too cold, or cold temperatures may damage young plants. Four weeks before the last frost is expected is about right.
Sow two seeds of courgettes or marrows about 90cm (3ft) apart from mid-May until early June. Trailing varieties of marrow will require more space to ramble over or a sturdy support to climb on. Sow two seeds of squashes about 90cm (3ft) apart from mid-May until mid-June. Once the seeds have germinated, thin out the less vigorous seedlings.
Sowing in pots or trays under cover:
Always use a good quality multi-purpose compost. Sow courgettes and marrows in pots or cells from mid-March until late May and then plant out at about 90cm (3ft) spacing. Trailing varieties of marrow need at least 1.2m (4ft) of space. Sow squashes in pots from the middle of March until the early summer.
Soil preparation and planting:
A sunny, sheltered spot with well-drained yet moisture retentive soil will give the best results.
In theory a neutral or slightly acid soil is best, but problems are unlikely when growing on alkaline soils.
Even a good site should be improved by the addition of plenty of well-rotted manure or garden compost, which will provide plenty of nutrients and help to increase the soil’s ability to retain moisture.
The mound system, which is growing courgettes or marrows on a mound of manure, produces too much lush foliage. Although an immense size and quantity of leaf is produced, the size of the crop may not be as impressive as usual.
Courgette plants started under cover can be planted where they are to crop, once all danger of frost has passed in late May.
Dig a planting hole and drop in the young plant. For a heavy crop, first enrich the soil with plenty of well-rotted manure or compost. Firm the soil around the plant and water in. Protect succulent young growth from slugs and snails and continue to water regularly. Plenty of water is essential, particularly once the plants are in flower and then when the fruits have started to swell. In hot, dry weather, plants may need as much as ten litres (two gallons) of water a week. Mulching will help to retain moisture.
On heavy, fertile soil, plenty of manure before sowing or planting makes additional feeding unnecessary.
On very sandy or light soils, regular applications of a liquid feed will help to boost production.
In cold conditions pollinating insects may not do an efficient job and so fruits may fail to set. If this happens remove a male flower and hand pollinate the female flowers. These are the ones with the very slight swelling behind the flower.
Harvesting and storage:
Once the plants have started to crop, the rate at which they form fruits is phenomenal. If you want to ensure maximum cropping, you need to harvest courgettes and marrows frequently; three times a week in the height of the season. The correct size at which the fruits should be harvested depends partly on the variety, but as a rule, courgettes are ready when about 10cm (4in) long and marrows when 20cm to 30cm (8in to 12in).
With squashes, it is essential that you refer to the seed packet before harvesting as they vary more widely in size and shape.
With marrows, if you cannot easily cut into the skin with your thumbnail, they are past their best.
Always use a sharp knife to cut the fruits from the plant. If you are tempted to try to twist or pull the fruit off, you will invariably damage the entire plant.
If you want to store marrows, wait until the stem is just starting to dry out, at which point the skin will be quite tough. Then cut them with a long stem. They store best at 7.5 deg C to 10 deg C (45 deg F to 50 deg F).
Courgettes are best eaten fresh or they can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator. The timing and conditions for storing squashes depends on the variety, so it is best to refer to the seed packet.
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